Seventeen years ago saw the release of the critically panned film ‘Judge Dredd’ (1995). With Sylvester Stallone starring as the titular character, comic fans had high expectations with such a high-profile action star attached to what could have been one of the darkest and grittiest comic book adaptation’s ever.
Despite grossing a reasonable £135million in worldwide box office takings, the film was not well-received by critics and left fans of the John Wagner comic series 2000 A.D feeling disappointed. The film, directed by Danny Cannon (of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Goal! fame), earned itself a Razzie Worst Actor nomination (1995) for Stallone’s portrayal and was generally considered to be a flop by its distributor Hollywood Pictures.
Plans for a new Judge Dredd film were first announced in December 2008, with Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) attached to write the script and Pete Travis (Vantage Point) hired to direct. The film’s production began in 2008 with a budget of £45million (half the budget of the original film) with Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Return of the King, The Bourne Supremacy, Star Trek) donning the iconic Judge’s helmet.
John Wagner (the original creator of 2000 A.D) silenced sceptical fans when he spoke positively of the film’s script, describing Garland’s work as ‘faithful to the original concept that made Judge Dredd a favourite bad-ass hero’ and as a ‘fan pleaser’. The film’s star, Urban, pleased fans by stating that Dredd would be ‘faithful to the world Wagner created, yet completely fresh in its execution … Darker in tone’. Fans were further relieved when Urban announced that his character would keep his helmet on, never showing his face, describing him as ‘the faceless representative of the law’.
Dredd takes place in Mega-City One. It is one in a series of Mega-Cities that offered survivors of the Atomic Wars refuge and protection from the dangers outside their walls. It is in Mega-City One where the police are known as the Judges and, in their vast and violent surroundings, they have the power to be ‘judge, jury and executioner’. Karl Urban’s Dredd is the city’s most successful judge, and is appointed the task of ridding the city of a dangerous drug epidemic which has users experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed. Prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headley) takes control of a 200 storey vertical slum and wages a dirty vicious war against the judges, proving that she will stop at nothing to protect her empire.
Dredd teams up with Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby),a cadet with powerful psychic abilities, to take down Ma-Ma and her empire when they become stuck in the neighbourhood and engage in a relentless battle for survival. The first trailer was released June 2012 and offers us a glimpse of what to expect.
The environment shown in the trailer bear little resemblance to the futuristic metropolis of the comic series but is, as promised by the film’s writer, dark and gritty. The visual style of the rebooted Dredd is significantly different to that of the 1995 version and rightly so, the general appearance and tone of the film feels much similar to its comic origins. The judges are realistic too, wearing surprisingly sensible uniforms and being less comic book stylized than expected.
Remaining stern-faced and authoritarian throughout the course of the trailer, it seems Urban was perfectly cast as the gruff-voiced Judge of Mega-City One. The fact that he never removes his mask adds a deeper level of mystery but this could hinder the development of a relationship between the character and the audience.
Judge Anderson does not appear in the trailer enough for a first impression to be made, but the character being portrayed by Olivia Thirlby is a very complex one; her blend of humanity in an inhumane job will not be an easy task for the actor to pull off. What the trailer does provide, as promised, is lots of violence, but then, in reality, a Dredd film with no violence wouldn’t be worthy of the name.
What is worrying, based on the trailer, is that it just does not look overly exciting. We have seen it all before, from slow motion gun fights to cliché, chunky dialogue with nothing overly impressive or intelligent shown. The plot is undeniably forgettable and features very few memorable characters. Dredd villains are supposed to be the scum of Mega-City One, grotesque in appearance and extremely dangerous in nature, but Headley’s Ma-Ma is relatively normal looking and feels like a very unbelievable, generic villain. An essential ingredient of the 2000 A.D comic series was its humour and this seems to be an element that is missing from this portrayal of the character. Although this element was a key factor in the failure of the original film, it would have been nice if Dredd had retained some of the quirkiness that writer John Wagner had created the character with.
Peter Travis is taking the Dredd franchise in a much different direction to that previously explored before on-screen and the trailer already shows that the film will be infinitely better than its 1995 predecessor. Unfortunately, despite remaining truer to its roots, it looks unlikely that Dredd will provide a memorable movie experience simply because it feels too tame and lacks originality, despite the inevitable high body count.
Although the film has not yet been released there has been talk of a sequel, with Urban explaining that Dredd is a ‘setup film … it’s about a day in the life of Dredd as he puts his rookie, Anderson, through the paces to see if she is worthy or not of becoming a Judge’ and is seen as the ‘first in a series of Dredd movies’. Studios are hoping that this film will rejuvenate the Judge Dredd franchise.
Peter Travis’s Dredd will be released internationally 21st September 2012.
Star Karl Urban will be seen in May 2013 reprising his role as Dr. Leonard McCoy in J.J. Abram’s as yet untitled Star Trek’ sequel. He will be starring alongside Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch.